Monday, 5 December 2016

Wild Wind And Wild Magic

"Clouds raced on a wild wind."
-copied from here.

"We of Faerie are of the wild magic...
"There are darker currents that run beneath the surface, like the wild wind storming across the heathland or the flash of lightning on a clear summer's night..."
-Neil Gaiman, The Sandman: Worlds' End (New York, 1994), p. 53.

Gaiman's narrator is the Ambassador of Queen Titania who also appears in Poul Anderson's A Midsummer Tempest. The idea of "...wild magic..." is relevant to Anderson's Hrolf Kraki's Saga. See here.

And the prose in Gaiman's comic strip panels sounds Andersonian.

Sunday, 4 December 2016

A Camp Meal

SM Stirling, On The Oceans Of Eternity (New York, 2000), Chapter Twenty-One, pp. 420-425.

Beef ribs and loin of forest pig in wild garlic and herbs spitted over coals;
freshly baked bread;
dried figs;
bread and cheese toasted while the meat cooks.

I am vegetarian by preference and dislike olives but would be able to survive on the rest of this menu - and indeed also on meat if there were no alternative. Our vicarious enjoyment of food continues.

The Psychology Of a Villain II

James Bond's villains are all one-volume men, except Blofeld. I suppose that, when we enumerate and compare fictional villains, we contemplate the kind of characters that come on-stage to perform overtly evil acts whereas:

Sauron remains off-stage;

Tachwyr the Dark is Flandry's Merseian opposite number but does not himself do anything that we might really call "evil";

CS Lewis' Wither and Frost are thoroughly corrupt individuals, systematically destroying their own humanity in order knowingly to serve demons, but they are not generally known about;

Lewis' White Witch is a more familiar villainous figure.

SM Stirling surpasses Poul Anderson, I think, both in his elaboration of the alternative histories idea and in his creation of unequivocally evil villains. When Benoni Strang is dying, we feel some sympathy for him whereas we cannot possibly sympathize either with Ignatieff, a ritualistic cannibal who confidently expects that, after death, he will go to Hell as one of the torturers, or with Walker, a moral imbecile for whom there is no difference between external reality and virtual reality.

Can someone like Walker be made to understand the suffering that he has caused to others? If he did come to understand it, would he be incapacitated by guilt? If he claimed to have been morally reformed, then it would remain impossible to trust him in any position of power or responsibility. But usually such characters are simply killed - or are defeated but live to return in a sequel.

The Psychology Of A Villain

We are used to evil men with evil motives although Aycharaych (not a man)'s motivation, to preserve the Chereionite heritage, is admirable enough. He is an exception.

Great Villains in Prose Fiction
Carl Peterson
Merau Varagan
Count Ignatieff
William Walker

There are others, the rest of Bond's Rogues Gallery for a kick-off, but let's stay with these eight. Two each from Poul Anderson and SM Stirling!

Walker has captured Ian Arnstein of Nantucket. Bad news! Doreen Arnstein reasons:

if Walker's sadistic sidekick Hong were torturing Ian, then she would boast about it, sending body parts or photographs - "'...she's incapable of acting otherwise.'" (On The Oceans Of Eternity, p. 393);

if Walker had killed Ian, then he would display his head - he also is incapable of anything else;

Walker is likely to keep his options open by holding a hostage unharmed for the time being;

also, he does not see other people, particularly not the "locals," as real so he might keep Ian as a more real person to boast to...

The indications so far are that Doreen is correct. So Ian can plausibly go into the lion's mouth without being, physically, harmed - and might even get under Walker's guard? Excellent characterization, Mr Stirling!

People And Logic

"Not that I have an infinite faith in logic to predict how people operate."
-SM Stirling, On The Oceans Of Eternity (New York, 2000), Chapter Nineteen, p. 393.

This is not just because people behave illogically. To think logically is to reason validly from premises - whether the premises are true or false. Thus:

A is a weak-willed alcoholic;
such a person will accept a drink if offered;
therefore, A will accept a drink if offered.

B is a strong-willed teetotaller;
such a person will refuse a drink if offered;
therefore, B will refuse a drink if offered.

Both these syllogisms are valid. But the premises may or may not be true. Might B lose his strong will under pressure? Might A gain some stronger motivation, e.g., from a religious conversion? We do not know all that goes on inside another human being. Therefore, we cannot predict anyone's actions with certainty.

Saturday, 3 December 2016

The Roaring Forties And Sechin Alto

Apart from reading Flecker, Alston wants to:

"Watch an iceberg heel in the Roaring Forties..." (p. 387)

What is it for an iceberg to "heel"? I tried googling this but found (see here).

Alston also wants to see condors above:

"...the towering painted pyramid of Sechin Alto in Peru." (p. 388)

In the twentieth century, this is an archaeological site. It reminds us, or at least me, of Machu Picchu, used as a hideout by Exaltationist time criminals in the Time Patrol series.

With a book and a laptop, I can:

read the text;
google the (to me) obscure references;
blog about them.

Thus, it takes forever to read a book or even a chapter. I still do not know how the sea battle in On The Oceans of Eternity pans out. Shortly, I will:

watch a Smallville dvd;
check emails and blog over breakfast;
eat lunch;
visit Ketlan in hospital;
maybe eat again before visiting Ketlan again;
maybe read and blog some more;
watch another Smallville;
and so on.

Life could be a lot worse.

John Milton

Some village-Hampden, that with dauntless breast
The little tyrant of his fields withstood;
Some mute inglorious Milton here may rest,
Some Cromwell guiltless of his country's blood. 
-copied from here

I quote this stanza because SM Stirling quotes "mute inglorious Milton" on p. 382 of On The Oceans Of Eternity (New York, 2000).

We have quoted Milton on the blog, in particular comparing his ideas of demons, Hell and Chaos with those of Poul Anderson. Milton's theological trilogy retells the Biblical narrative in Classical literary forms whereas Anderson's History of Technic Civilization is a science fiction future history, recounting not what God has done but what mankind will do.

A Sea Battle And Two Literary References

SM Stirling's Nantucketers and Tartessians fight a sea battle, appropriately in a novel entitled On The Oceans Of Eternity. One page gives two literary references. One of the things that Alston wants to live to do again involves reading Flecker. We already knew that she was a Flecker fan. See here.

The noises of the battle include:

"...shot crashing home like the tattoo of hail on a roof magnified to Brobdingagian size."
-SM Stirling, On The Oceans Of Eternity (New York, 2000), Chapter Nineteen, p. 388.

"Brobdingnagian" has become a literary word for "big." CS Lewis' Ransom, speaking to Jane Studdock, breaks off in mid-sentence:

"He broke off sharply and a new look came into his eyes. At the same moment a new thought came into Jane's mind, an odd one. She was thinking of hugeness. Or rather, she was not thinking of it. She was, in some strange fashion, experiencing it. Something intolerably big, something from Brobdingnag, was pressing on her, was approaching, was almost in the room. She felt herself shrinking..."

- a touch of Alice In Wonderland -

"...suffocated, emptied of all power and virtue. She darted a look at the Director which was really a cry for help, and that glance, in some inexplicable way, revealed him as being, like herself, a very small object. The whole room was a tiny place, a mouse's hole, and it seemed to her to be tilted aslant - as though the insupportable mass and splendour of the formless hugeness, in approaching, had knocked it askew. She heard the Director's voice.
"'Quick,' he said gently, 'these are my Masters. You must leave me now. This is no place for us small ones, but I am inured. Go!'"
-CS Lewis, That Hideous Strength (London, 1979), Chapter Six, section II, pp. 88-89.

Ok, they're big. Poul Anderson and Gordon R Dickson use "Brobdingnag" as the name of a really big planet. See here.

James Blish And The Megamultiverse II

I previously thought that the single immutable timelines of The Corridors Of Time and There Will Be Time, the single mutable timeline of the Time Patrol series and the parallel timelines of the Old Phoenix Sequence were mutually incompatible cosmologies but now think that all of these scenarios can be accommodated within the multidimensional framework mentioned in the opening Time Patrol story although the immutable timelines would have to occupy a remote and usually inaccessible region of the megamultiverse.

Prima facie, James Blish's Haertel Scholium presents a mini-multiverse, its four divergent branches dealing respectively with telepathy, energy beings, the Dirac transmitter and the planet Lithia. (The single Lithian novel is also Volume III of After Such Knowledge.) However, the Dirac transmitter "branch" denies that there are "branches of time." Its protagonists work to ensure that they continue to inhabit a single consistent timeline. So maybe the alternative future histories of the Haertel Scholium do present mutually incompatible fictional narratives?

Friday, 2 December 2016

Virtual Particles And Isa Upanishad

Blogs flow together. The previous post was equally relevant to James Blish Appreciation. This post is equally relevant to Religion and Philosophy. As usual, Poul Anderson is the link.

"'Space is not a passive framework for events to happen in. It is a sea of virtual particles. They constantly go in and out of existence according to the uncertainty principle. The energy density implied is tremendous.'"
-Poul Anderson, Starfarers (New York, 1999), p. 8.
-copied from here.


space is not mere nothingness but full of potential;
there is continual creation and annihilation and immense energy;
from this "sea" or matrix, our universe emerged.

"The Spirit filled all with his radiance. He is incorporeal and invulnerable, pure and untouched by evil. He is the supreme seer and thinker, immanent and transcendent. He placed all things in the path of Eternity."
-Isa Upanishad IN The Upanishads, trans. Juan Mascaro (Penguin Books, Harmondsworth, Middlesex, 1984), pp. 49-50 AT p. 49.

This translation of Isa Upanishad uses the English terms:

the Eternal
god of light
Lord of creation
fire divine

- but not the untranslated Sanskrit "Brahman" or "Atman" which are common in the Upanishads as a whole. "Brahman" began as the power of ritual, came to be identified with the power of creation and was then hypostatized as transcendent reality. Atman is within. The Upanishadic rishis inherited these terms but also used them to express their yogic/meditative experience. In particular, they identified Atman with Brahman.

I suggest that energy in space:

is incorporeal, although embodied in every organism;
is indestructible because it survives every change of form;
sees and thinks through organisms, although not independently of them.

Therefore, I identify energy with Upanishadic Spirit.